Bee-friendly butterfly bushes are now more varied than ever
These pincushion-flowered perennials are a pollinator magnet
These summer perennials are unsurpassed for colour and scent
These sun-loving, aromatic perennials come in a range of tones
Gardeners can always depend on these cottage garden favourites
These creeping plants will give a new dimension to your borders
Aromatic perennials will reward you with colourful spikes of flowers.
These colourful members of the daisy family will shine all summer!
The delightful, fleur-de-lis flowers look fabulous in summer borders
Plant some in a border for colourful flowers until the end of summer.
They’ll give you a great show even where little else will thrive
We’re all familiar with the gorgeous blooms of tall bearded irises, but far fewer gardeners grow their much smaller cousins, the dwarf bearded iris. Equally delightful, they flower earlier, from mid-April into May, and being much, much smaller, they’re ideal for planting in poor, dry soil alongside pathways and in gravel gardens where they won’t take up much room or get swamped by herbaceous partners. They’re also good for narrow borders beneath sunny windows where little else will thrive. Most reach no higher than 15cm (6in) tall, with all the colours and shades you come to expect from their bigger relatives with demure single colours, to jazzy, avant-garde combinations of electric-blue, golden-yellows, brooding purples and powerful reds, with multi-coloured petals and contrasting beards.
Dwarf bearded iris are developed from the diminutive European species I. pumila and other taller bearded iris, which introduced a kaleidoscope of colours, while retaining the compact habit. All are easy to grow and, being short, don’t need staking like some of their larger cousins. It’s important to make sure the small rhizomes get sufficient light in summer and don’t get swamped by herbaceous partners. They can be propagated like any other iris. Lift and divide in June, keeping the younger, more vigorous rhizomes and discarding older growth. Plant them so the rhizomes are exposed on the soil surface to get heat and light and they’ll flower much more reliably. Once you’re hooked, you’ll soon start collecting all the various forms!
These early-blossoming flowering quince shrubs shrubs create a real spectacle
Once the flowering quince, or chaenomeles, burst into bloom you know the gardening year is about to get into full swing. Colourful and reliable whatever the weather, these deciduous shrubs flower on bare stems from February, into March and beyond. The three species all come from the east. C. japonica comes from Japan, while C. speciosa and C. cathayensis come from China (C. speciosa is also found in Korea). Many of the varieties available have been developed from C. superba, a hybrid between C. speciosa and C. japonica. The bright, cupshaped flowers, which form at the base of older stems, come in a range of tones from bright scarlet, pink, salmon, apricot, pale yellow and, of course, white. After the flowers come oval to squat yellow-green fruits. Once ripe, these are best used to make jams and jellies, but can be cooked. The large-growing Cathay quince, C. cathayensis, has the biggest fruits of all, reaching 15cm (6in) across.
They grow in most soils and situations, even heavy clay in sun or partial shade. Once established, they need little care, but growth can become a unkempt and is best pruned to shape. After flowering, cut out all the thin, wispy branches to leave a more open structure composed of thicker shoots. Over-long growths can be cut back by about a third to reduce the height. You can also selectively remove shoots that are three to four years old to encourage new growths to form. Chaenomeles is also good for training up walls or fences, even those which are north or east facing. They’re susceptible to fireblight, so don’t grow them if this is already a serious problem.
Bring sparkle to dark winter days
It’s hard to imagine an iris flowering in the depths of winter, but the Algerian iris, Iris unguicularis, does just that! Although it’s a plant from Mediterranean shores, it’s far hardier than you might think, but it still needs a sheltered, well-drained spot, such as at the base of a south or west-facing wall, to do well.
A sunny spot by a front door, where its flowers can be admired, is ideal. The flowers are produced intermittently during breaks in the weather, and can also be taken indoors, where their beautiful markings, and honey-scent of varieties such as ‘Walter Butt’, can be fully appreciated. While the straight species is attractive, over the years a number of forms have been introduced from the wild, or selected from seed.
Previously known as I. stylosa, the iris is a clump-forming, evergreen perennial, spreading by means of congested rhizomes, clothed in narrow, upright or arching leaves. The flowers, produced from late autumn through to early spring, are produced from a succession of buds in shades of lilac through to blue-purple, often marked in the centre and honey-scented, with some varieties being far better perfumed than others.
They all prefer a poor soil that’s well drained, but not waterlogged. They need an open position, without competition from other plants. New plantings will take a year or two to settle in, so water in pot-grown plants two or three times if conditions are dry. Remove hidden snails before flowering. Clip off or pull away old foliage after flowering to tidy up the plants.
Want winter colour and scent?
Viburnum are one of those undersung, but extremely useful groups of shrubs, that have representatives performing at almost every time of year whether through flowers, foliage or fruit.
The winter flowering varieties are especially welcome when little else is around. They can be deciduous or evergreen, with flowers produced in dense clusters, studding bare branches, or in flat heads among leaves, often sweetly scented.
Although Viburnum botnatense 'Dawn' is the most familiar, its worth looking out for 'Charles Lamont', which has stronger pink tones. The diminutive 'Nanum' form of the normally tall V.Farreri is a useful spreading shrub for the smallest borders. All the deciduous forms lend themselves to be under planted or associated with early bulbs and perennials, such as hellebores and associated with other winter-flowering shrubs, such as mahonia.
Most viburnums are indifferent to soil as long as it's not soggy or too chalky. They will grow in sun or shade, but will flower better in sunlight. Most need little of no pruning save to keep them in shape. Do this just after flowering.
Enjoy bright berries and colourful foliage
Everyone recognises a holly bush, dressed in spiny leaves and studded with blood-red berries. But although our native Ilex aquifolium is the best-known, there are 600 species in the world and not all are evergreen or hardy. Because it’s so common, our native holly has mutated, or been bred by gardeners, to create dozens of kinds with different looks to suit every taste, smaller habits and with variegated and oddly shaped leaves and even yellow berries. Among the other species, the smaller, Asian Ilex crenata is useful because of its small leaves and dense growth, making it a good substitute for box.
Some hollies drop their leaves in autumn, so the scarlet berries stand out brightly and Ilex verticillata, although not a common garden plant, can be particularly spectacular in the winter landscape. Being tolerant of a wide range of soils and conditions, the common holly can be planted in any garden as long as the soil isn’t waterlogged. All are tolerant of pruning and they can be used as a hedge. Pruning in late summer will remove young growth and reveal the ripening berries. Although they’re tolerant of shade, growing in a brighter place will result in better flowering and more berries. Most hollies produce either male or female flowers so you need to plant a male near (but not next to) a female (or many females) to get berries. Remove any green stems on variegated plants as soon as you see them.
Vibrant foliage and bright berries make a dramatic autumn effect
Hardy and easy to grow, the larger euonymus are very different to the commoner evergreen species, such as E. fortunei, grown for ground cover. Their beauty is really revealed at this time of year, when most have striking autumn colour usually accompanied by curious angular fruit capsules that split to reveal brightly-coloured seeds. Few of the 130 species are commonly available and the most common is the European native spindle tree, E. europaeus. While other species also come from the Northern Hemisphere, the most ornamental species are from China.
Most are attractive at the back of large borders, with solidago, rudbeckias or Japanese anemones or dahlias in front, or they make attractive specimen plants in grass or at the front of shrub borders. All are hardy and not fussy about soils: most will grow even in difficult chalky soils. To obtain the best fruit production and autumn colour, plant in full sun. Most species have a dense, twiggy habit, but some of the slender growers may need help forming a strong leader if you want to train them as small trees.
Delicate, fragrant flowers to brighten up the darker months
The Japanese Camellia sasanqua is often overlooked but is a charming and robust species that has the unusual qualities of having small, fragrant flowers that open in late autumn, usually in October and November. Like all camellias, they’re ideal for growing in pots but their small leaves and bushy habit make them suitable as garden shrubs and even hedges. Many have attractive, bronzed young foliage and the flowers open over several months. Their glossy leaves make them attractive plants for borders throughout the year. These camellias prefer a sheltered spot and may struggle in very cold, exposed areas but usually thrive in urban gardens. But, unlike most camellias, they prefer a sunny site and are the best camellias for patio pots. They’re also less fussy about very acid soils and will succeed in neutral soils. Most are upright at first and light pruning or pinching out the shoot tips in early spring will keep the plants neat and compact. Give plants in the border a mulch in spring and a dressing of fertiliser suitable for azaleas and rhododendron, and feed potted plants with a soluble acid plant food once a week from April to September.
FACT: Leaves of Camellia sasanqua can be used for making tea and its seeds produce an oil used in hair tonics and for lighting.
Lovely and easy to grow, they provide astonishing autumn colour
Viburnums are shrubs from the Northern Hemisphere, grown for their attractive leaves, often scented flowers and showy berries. Few of the 150 species are grown in our gardens, but they do include some of our commonest shrubs such as evergreen V. tinus and the winter-flowering V. bodnantense ‘Dawn’. Most are hardy and can be used as specimen shrubs or screens.
The berries will attract fruit-eating birds and bring life to your garden. The evergreens are useful in shade and the deciduous kinds can give your garden rich autumn tones before the leaves drop. Plant the berried kinds with silver-barked birch and red-stemmed cornus. For a complete autumn display, grow a late clematis such as C. orientalis up them for extra colour and contrasting fluffy seed heads.
Viburnums are tolerant of a wide range of soil types, though chalky soils do not suit V. betulifolium. A bright spot is best for good berry production, especially of the deciduous types. Pruning is not necessary. Light pruning can be done in spring, though it may reduce flowering and berry production. For lots of berries, it’s best to plant more than one plant of each type to ensure pollination.